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Cajun food, that spicy cuisine so popular in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, has its origins in what the less affluent folks used to eat when they were called Acadians instead of Cajuns. Cajun food, like most “down home” cooking, makes the most of what the cook has on hand, hence, gumbo. Leaving that delicious thought for a moment, let's focus on another Cajun specialty: dirty rice.
From its inception, dirty rice was a good way to make the most out of killing a chicken — or buying livers and gizzards cheap — feeding a family and doing it for pennies, all in the bargain. Rice was inexpensive and the chicken liver and gizzard, along with the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun cooking — onion, bell pepper and celery — extended the meal. Dirty rice, then, was often eaten as a main dish. Dirty rice gets its name from the color the liver and broth imparted to the white rice.
In these more health-conscious days, liver and gizzards are not used as often. Instead, small amounts of ground pork or beef are used, but the trinity and spices remain the same. Some cooks also throw in a little bacon grease for extra flavoring.
The meat is first browned, and then the vegetables, including fresh garlic and green onions are browned together until the onions are clear. All is drained and then the rice and spices such as salt, pepper, cayenne, pepper sauce and paprika go into the pot. The cook adds water, brings it to a boil, adds the vegetables and meat back into the saucepan, covers it, turns the heat to low and waits for the rice to cook. Beef broth or any other available broth may be substituted in place of part, or all, of the water. When the rice has cooked, it stands, covered, away from the heat for five to 10 minutes before serving. Dirty rice can be served with a salad as a main dish, depending on the amount of meat, or to accompany jambalaya or gumbo.
Dirty rice is easy to make and a cook can alter the recipe to suit his or her tastes, and the family’s tastes. That, after all, is a Cajun tradition.